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Daruma Doll Blog

Daruma Doll : Good Luck Charm

7 min read

Japan's cultural richness is no longer to be praised. Between myths and traditions, lovers of folklore have something to be satisfied. Today, we are going to focus on the Daruma, a Japanese doll very strange by its shape, but also by its history.

The Daruma (だるま) is a Japanese Ceramic Doll. Its round shape and large open eyes are directly inspired by the Buddhist monk Bodhidharma. Symbol of perseverance and success, the Daruma would allow the realization of his dearest wish.

What is a Daruma Doll ?

Daruma Doll stock

Daruma are round japanese dolls who has neither arms nor legs usually made of ceramic. They represent the Buddhist monk Bodhidharma, known as "Bodaidaruma" (or "Daruma" for short) in Japanese.
He lived in the fifth or sixth century and brought Zen Buddhism to Asia.

In Japanese culture Daruma are usually red, with large wide eyes, a black beard and a grumpy expression. They are also often weighted at the base so that they can stand up if they are knocked over. 

This figurine is a Japanese lucky charm that symbolizes perseverance, luck and success. But how does it work ?

How to use a Daruma Doll ?

Daruma is a Japanese good luck charm whose rituals will help you reach your goal or dream ! To make it work, you must repeat the following points like a mantra, it's very simple  :

1. Think of a goal, dream or purpose

It can be a simple wish. But traditionally in Asian culture, it has to be something achievable. You can wish yourself success for the coming year. Especially if you have daruma in your home or office.

2. Daruma : which eye to paint first ?

The right or the left ? It doesn't matter, as long as you have your wish well formulated in mind when you paint the iris of the eye. By performing this step, you seal your own commitment to the goal you've set for yourself.

In the age of samurai and geishas, Japanese men and women traditionally used a brush and black sumi (calligraphy ink). If you wish to apply the precepts of daruma today, you can buy sui in 100 yen stores in Japan. Or you can find it in department stores such as Tokyu Hands and Loft. Otherwise, a black pen or marker will also do the trick. 

3. Where to place the Daruma Doll ?

Place Daruma prominently in your home, at the top of a shelf for example, but you can also keep it on your desk or any other relevant place. The idea is that you should see it as often as possible. The goal being is to be able to see it every day. The presence of this Japanese doll will help you keep your goal in mind and strengthen your determination. 

4. Take action without losing sight of your goal

There is a belief that the doll contains a god who has had his sight taken away. By painting the first eye, you make it blind. It is up to you to work, to take action and to show courage, determination and perseverance to reach your goal and thus, to be able to give back the sight to the god stuck in the doll. Keep in mind that daruma rewards sacrifice and strength of will.

5. Achieve your goal

Paint the second eye once the goal or wish has been achieved.

Again, calligraphy ink gives a traditional Japanese look, but a black marker works too. If you choose to use a daruma as a Japanese charm or talisman to protect you for a whole year, then only fill its second eye at the end of the year.

How to use Daruma

5. Bring your daruma to the Temple where you bought it.

Like the omamori or ema amulets, daruma is designed to last one year. When the year is over or you have reached your goal, you must take it back to the shrine where you bought it.

Or you can take it to any other monastery and temple that has good-luck items.
It will usually be burned around New Year's Day. In the culture of Japan, it will then be burned in the sacred fire especially around the New Year. Of course, this is not always possible, and you can keep your Daruma longer.

6. Buy another one !

In Japanese spirituality, it is common to buy another one in order to fulfill a new purpose once the first one has been fulfilled. We can suggest you our collection of Daruma Doll available in our Japanese Temple Store.

Daruma Doll Japanese Temple

How are Daruma Doll made ? 

Daruma dolls are usually made with a weighted base, so it cannot be turned upside down. This kind of doll is called okiagari in Japanese.

We don't know exactly when daruma became okiagari type dolls, but in the 17th century, the two words were almost synonymous. The expression nanakorobi yaoki, which means "fall seven times; get up eight times", is often associated with daruma, too.

The first daruma dolls were made in the 17th century. The monks of Takasaki City, Gunma Prefecture, had the idea of making papier-mâché talismans with the effigy of the monk Bodhidharma to bring good luck to farmers. The income of the farmers depended heavily on good luck at harvest time, and since Japanese culture is very superstitious, having a good-luck charm was not too much to ask for.

Later on, the farmers began to make daruma dolls themselves to sell to supplement their meager incomes in times of economic hardship. A few decades later, the use of the daruma doll gained popularity and spread throughout the rest of the country. Today, Takasaki City still produces more than 80% of the daruma made in Japan.

The daruma on our Japanese Temple Shop they are made of ceramics and hand-painted, but they can also be made of paper ! If you want to make your own Daruma, we invite you to watch the video from Blick Art Materials.

Daruma Physical features and symbolism

A round body, without arms or legs

The absence of limbs on this figurine is related to the history of Bodhidharma, but we have already addressed this point earlier in the text, so there is no need to go back over it. On the other hand, there is a second explanation (complementary to the first one). At its origin, the daruma doll was designed to always return to its initial vertical position. No matter how hard you jostle it, it will always get up.

Daruma is a perfect illustration of the Japanese proverb "nanakorobi yaoki" which translates as "fall seven times, get up eight times". In other words, it is important to keep in mind that no matter how many times you fall, you must always get up to reach your goal. Daruma is a good luck charm (just like Maneki Neko or the Omamori), but above all it is a powerful symbol of perseverance.

Big empty eyes

The most remarkable feature of the doll - you would have noticed - are her two large open eyes, without eyelids and pupils. The theory that explains this is related to Bodhidharma's story and the moment when he tore his eyelids out so he wouldn't fall asleep.

Daruma Doll Features

Kanji inscriptions

On the belly or on the sides of the figurine, you can see Japanese inscriptions in kanji. Most of the time, they can be translated by "luck", "perseverance", "wealth"... Or other similar words related to a field of life in which our goal, our wish is inscribed. Some people write their wish on the doll so as not to lose sight of it or to make their wish more official with themselves and the Gods.

Thick eyebrows and imposing moustaches

The facial hairs painted on the figure correspond to the eyebrows and beard of the monk Bodhidharma, but another meaning lies behind them. If you look closely at the shape of the eyebrows, you can guess the shape of two cranes, face to face. Similarly for the whiskers, their shape is supposed to remind you of a turtle (less obvious to guess, I grant you). In Japanese culture, these two animals symbolize longevity. In fact, a Japanese proverb says "the crane lives 1000 years, the turtle 10 000". Longevity occupies an important place in the Japanese mind, many symbolic elements refer to it.

The red color of daruma

Although there are daruma of all colors nowadays, the most popular traditional color is red. The reason behind this choice of color is still a mystery, but there are several theories that try to explain why daruma is red.

A first theory supposes that Bodhidharma, after his journey to China, wore a long red robe - like the Chinese Buddhist monks - during his nine years of meditation in the cave. The figurine being a representation of this legendary monk, this explains its red color.

According to another, much darker theory, the color red may have originated during a period of devastating smallpox epidemics in the country. In a culture as superstitious as Japan's, this disease could only be a "curse" sent by a vengeful God. According to popular belief, red was the preferred color of the God of smallpox, so people began to wear red clothes to gain the God's favor and be spared from the disease. Thus, the red color of the daruma doll was used to repel disease and help healing. Moreover, daruma is a gift often given to sick people to wish them a good recovery.


The different colors of daruma and their meaning

Nowadays, you can find daruma figurines of all colors, each of them corresponding to a particular area of life. The meaning of each color may be different depending on the manufacturer or the region, nobody ever really agreed on this point. Originally, daruma was red, but over the years the colors have become more diverse and the meanings have become more diverse - probably for some purely commercial reason.

Daruma Colors

However, here is a list of the different colors of daruma and their most common meanings :

  • Red: Good luck and good fortune.
  • White : Purity and balance.
  • Gold : Silver and glory.
  • Black : Protection against evil spirits.
  • Green : Health and fitness.
  • Orange : Academic success or prosperity.
  • Blue : Professional success.
  • Purple : Personal development or health.
  • Pink : Love & Romance.

Daruma Nowadays

The traditional version of the daruma doll is made of washi paper, a kind of Japanese papier-mâché, with a hollow inside to make it easier to burn. The original size corresponds to that of a basketball. It is not uncommon to see a daruma doll placed in a corner of a room, often at the top of a shelf, in a restaurant, a shop or a house.

Nowadays, you can find Daruma in different forms: plush, key ring, cell phone shell... or even as a daruma piggy bank to store your savings while adding an original Japanese touch to your decoration.

Did you know that ? The Darumaka pokemon is largely inspired by the daruma doll. In fact, when it appeared in episode 665, the Darumarond is presented as "a pokémon that always stays focused and never gives up, many people think it is a lucky pokémon".

 Daruma Doll Japanese Temple